They are chips in Britain, pommes frites or patates in France, French fries or just fries in the U.S.A. Call them what you will. What you call them all depends on where you are, but fried potatoes perhaps are one of the most popular side dishes or snack treats in the world.
Sliced thin or thick, crinkled, curly or waffled, fried soft or crisp, they are doused with ketchup, cheese, chili, mayonnaise, or poutine (cheese curds and light brown gravy), and first phrase learned by any aspiring fast food cashier is “Would you like to double size the fries?”
The Belgians and the French are at odds over who came up with the idea first. The Belgians claim a 1781 source that referred deep-fried potatoes in valley of the Meuse as early as 1680, but skeptics generally discount the idea as potatoes were not common in the area until 1735. The French claim reaches back to 1775, and by next century, the dish was wide spread and popular.
Thomas Jefferson put “potatoes served in the French manner,” on the White House menu in 1802, but the term “French Fried Potatoes” did not appear until 1856. The great French fry explosion came with the rise of the fast food entrepreneurs and chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. Americans eat about 30 pounds of French fries in one form or the other each year.
At home and in restaurants, frozen potatoes have all but eclipsed the homemade variety. They came along in the 1960s and now come in a myriad of styles and flavors. But the real thing is probably still the best.
Chefs recommend the Idaho Russet Burbank strain of potatoes that have been cut into uniform slices or strips, and soaked in cold water to remove the surface starch, and dried. The potatoes are then fried in two stages.
The first stage calls for blanching in hot fat at around 320F to cook through. Then the potatoes are drained, and cooked a second time at 375F to crisp and brown them. They are best served immediately.
A kissin’ cousin of the French fry is the tater tot. Tots are a good example of making something out of not much. They were invented in 1953 by food developers for Ore-Ida, who wanted a way to use the small slivers of raw potatoes left over from cutting French fries and other potato products.
They bound the slivers together with flour, pushed the mixture through an extruder and got little nuggets of potato that fried up crisp, crunchy, and still soft inside. Tots first appeared in markets in 1956.
Sales were slow at first; cheaply priced, the public was reluctant to try them. The solution was to raise the price; now, buyers assumed a greater value for the product and sales rose. Today, we consume about 70 million pounds of tater tots annually. If you are counting, that is 3,710,000 individual tots.
The third leg of fried snack triumvirate belongs to the noble onion. The origin of the idea of dipping onion rings in batter and frying them is unclear. A recipe for French fried onions appears in an American cookbook published in 1802, in a New York newspaper in 1910, and a recipe in an advertisement for Crisco in 1933.
A Texas restaurant, Kirby’s Pig Stand, which opened in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas in the 1920s, claims to have introduced onion rings to the world. They also claim Texas toast as their idea.
Battered or coated with bread crumbs, rings of onion are deep fried until golden and served hot and crunchy. The cooking process alters the propanethial oxide in onions into bispropenyl disulfide which gives the rings a sweet rather than acrid taste.
In Texoma, the favorite for fries, tots, and rings is unquestionably MGs in Sherman, and as for preparation, MGs keeps thing simple.
“We use fresh Russet potatoes,” said MGs owner, Mike Adams. “Slice them, leaving the skin on, and soak them in water until we use them. We use the two fry method, first a blanch and then a finish fry at a hotter temperature.”
They solve the problem of the diner who cannot quite decide among the choices by offering “Frings,” a mix of fries and rings or “Frots,” fries, rings, and tots.
“We buy Colossal-size sweet onions, different varieties depending on what is available, dip the rings in a basic batter and fry them,” he said. “We don’t use a lot of seasonings other that a light sprinkling of seasoned salt.”
As for tots, well tots are tots. Adams said that they are not something you want to try and make yourself.
Edward Southerland is a feature writer for Best of Texoma. For more information, visit BestofTexoma.com or www.facebook.com/BestOfTexoma